Florida International (6-6) vs. Toledo (8-4)Dec. 26, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: Two upstart programs aim to move one step closer to FBS relevance. Florida International and Toledo went a combined 27-69 from 2006-09 and neither has made a bowl appearance since the Rockets earned a GMAC Bowl victory in 2005. It's also a chance to watch Toledo's electric return man Eric Page, who compiled a 31.76 yards-per-kick-return average (third nationally) and delivered three return touchdowns (first nationally) en route to Walter Camp All-America first team honors.
Keep an eye on: Toledo's starting quarterback situation. The Rockets turned to freshman Terrance Owens after sophomore Austin Dantin went down with a shoulder injury in their Oct. 30 showdown with Eastern Michigan, and the youngster led the team to a 3-1 mark down the stretch. Coach Tim Beckman has declared Owens (1,112 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, two interceptions) the starter, but hasn't ruled out Dantin seeing playing time. The Golden Panthers should counter with their running attack. Feature back Darriet Perry has raced for 14 rushing touchdowns in 2010, including nine in his past five games.
Did you know: These teams are no strangers to one another. Florida International and Toledo faced off in both 2008 and 2009, with the Golden Panthers taking the first matchup 35-16 and the Rockets claiming the second 41-31. It's also worth noting that FIU rebounded from an 0-4 start this year, though those losses came against BCS-conference opponents (vs. Rutgers, at Texas A&M, at Maryland, at Pittsburgh).
Final analysis: Expect a close contest. Both teams rolled through their late-season schedules to win four of their final five games, but FIU's T.Y. Hilton should be the difference-maker. The Sun Belt Player of the Year can beat Toledo in a variety of ways, having amassed 816 receiving yards, 278 rushing yards, 659 kick return yards and nine total touchdowns. He scored in each of the prior two matchups against Toledo and should reach the end zone at least once in this one.
The pick: Florida International 34, Toledo 24
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
Toldeo: C Kevin Kowalski -- Kowalski is a smart, tough center who has started for the Rockets the past four seasons at both center and guard. He's a powerful lineman with a nasty attitude and easily removes defenders off the line before trying to bury them into the turf. Kowalski is a solid fit for a power running offense at the next level. Grade: Sixth-round prospect.
FIU: CB Anthony Gaitor -- Gaitor is an underrated prospect at cornerback and another player who broke in with the first team as a freshman. He's a feisty defensive back who plays a physical brand of football. Gaitor does not possess great upside, but could find a home as a dime back/special teams player on the NFL level. Grade: Seventh-round prospect.
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